Camden is dead, long live Topshop

23 February 2008

lack is a colour often associated with Camden. Nonetheless, covered in the black ash on Sunday, the morning after the night before, the colour took on a new and truly morbid tone.

Cities absorb iconographies. As a Londoner, I grew up with Camden as part of my urban fairy tale, the saga of London boroughs which is constantly re-written by each generation. Documenters of London history – from Roger Maine to Peter Ackroyd – show the constant morphing nature of this beast, crumbling, growing, on the move.

Camden has for decades been a centre of dissent. Cynics complain it’s become commercialised, but tourists swamp the markets for a reason: because of that which it represents. Curious, bug eyed and a little fearful, teenagers hone to the carnival of goth, punk and ‘alt’, grateful for the escape. We do not have a choice in our symbols, in which parts of our cities or brands come to represent certain things: why should the golden arches have become the symbol of global capitalism, rather than any other equal brand? But once the symbol arrives, its treatment demands our attention.

When I heard about the Camden fire, I was walking over Magdalene bridge. I received a text message from a friend: she said that she was in her flat, watching the market burn down. I shrugged it off, musing instead on the historical presence of fires in London. Once I got back to College, I saw the photographs online. What hit me was the precision of Camden’s fate.

A campaign to save the market was launched but permission was given for the Stables Market to be replaced by a TopShop. And now the section for which permission had not been granted, the sprawling network of wooden stalls along the canal, has burnt down.

I’ve just connected the campaign to save the market and the fire which burnt it down. Of course, plenty of people have thought of this connection. Of course, a few people have even spoken aloud this connection. But the threat of libel, of some anonymous development company deciding that this constitutes an accusation, is usually a step too far for the printed page.

Camden market has not gone completely, so why do I mourn? Because it’s under attack – and no one’s helping. Because the fact that no one has been prepared to put in print the obvious suspicion of foul play by some party somewhere is perpetuated by our libel laws – while the storeholders of Camden market are left out in the ash and the cold.

The day after the fires there were – unconnected – reports of gangs of youths attacking fire brigades. Once again, the lines form to blame youth culture (yes, that’s us) for the breakdown of society. What will happen next? The stall holders will be given hand outs but the stalls won’t be rebuilt as before. Developers will be brought in to ‘develop’ a grand arcade or shiny ‘units’, strangely unaffordable to the previous stall holders. The practice of keeping stock and stall in the same place will also be phased out. Those who can’t afford warehouses will have to move their businesses somewhere else.

I accept that London changes, that it is a shifting body, flowing with its Thamesian tides. But I do not accept our failures. I reject a Camden which does not fight for its existence, which does not have a movement to exclaim that it will survive.

From Cam to Cam, ‘bridge to ‘den, we here in Cambridge must understand that there is no bubble. Where were the activists when we needed them the most? Where are the chanting crowds stopping Tescos from ‘developing’ Mill Road? There’s an eerie parallel between ‘developers’ and the ‘developed world’. To develop is to make more of the same it would seem, to concretise our civilization, to John Lewis-ify everything until Camden becomes a proverb, just ash.

Don’t mock Camden. Mourn for it. Wear black and scrape in white chalk across your body ‘Camden woz ere’.

Richard Braude studies 3rd year Art History.

lack is a colour often associated with Camden. Nonetheless, covered in the black ash on Sunday, the morning after the night before, the colour took on a new and truly morbid tone.

Cities absorb iconographies. As a Londoner, I grew up with Camden as part of my urban fairy tale, the saga of London boroughs which is constantly re-written by each generation. Documenters of London history – from Roger Maine to Peter Ackroyd – show the constant morphing nature of this beast, crumbling, growing, on the move.

Camden has for decades been a centre of dissent. Cynics complain it’s become commercialised, but tourists swamp the markets for a reason: because of that which it represents. Curious, bug eyed and a little fearful, teenagers hone to the carnival of goth, punk and ‘alt’, grateful for the escape. We do not have a choice in our symbols, in which parts of our cities or brands come to represent certain things: why should the golden arches have become the symbol of global capitalism, rather than any other equal brand? But once the symbol arrives, its treatment demands our attention.

When I heard about the Camden fire, I was walking over Magdalene bridge. I received a text message from a friend: she said that she was in her flat, watching the market burn down. I shrugged it off, musing instead on the historical presence of fires in London. Once I got back to College, I saw the photographs online. What hit me was the precision of Camden’s fate.

A campaign to save the market was launched but permission was given for the Stables Market to be replaced by a TopShop. And now the section for which permission had not been granted, the sprawling network of wooden stalls along the canal, has burnt down.

I’ve just connected the campaign to save the market and the fire which burnt it down. Of course, plenty of people have thought of this connection. Of course, a few people have even spoken aloud this connection. But the threat of libel, of some anonymous development company deciding that this constitutes an accusation, is usually a step too far for the printed page.

Camden market has not gone completely, so why do I mourn? Because it’s under attack – and no one’s helping. Because the fact that no one has been prepared to put in print the obvious suspicion of foul play by some party somewhere is perpetuated by our libel laws – while the storeholders of Camden market are left out in the ash and the cold.

The day after the fires there were – unconnected – reports of gangs of youths attacking fire brigades. Once again, the lines form to blame youth culture (yes, that’s us) for the breakdown of society. What will happen next? The stall holders will be given hand outs but the stalls won’t be rebuilt as before. Developers will be brought in to ‘develop’ a grand arcade or shiny ‘units’, strangely unaffordable to the previous stall holders. The practice of keeping stock and stall in the same place will also be phased out. Those who can’t afford warehouses will have to move their businesses somewhere else.

I accept that London changes, that it is a shifting body, flowing with its Thamesian tides. But I do not accept our failures. I reject a Camden which does not fight for its existence, which does not have a movement to exclaim that it will survive.

From Cam to Cam, ‘bridge to ‘den, we here in Cambridge must understand that there is no bubble. Where were the activists when we needed them the most? Where are the chanting crowds stopping Tescos from ‘developing’ Mill Road? There’s an eerie parallel between ‘developers’ and the ‘developed world’. To develop is to make more of the same it would seem, to concretise our civilization, to John Lewis-ify everything until Camden becomes a proverb, just ash.

Don’t mock Camden. Mourn for it. Wear black and scrape in white chalk across your body ‘Camden woz ere’.

Richard Braude studies 3rd year Art History.